All's Well That Ends Well
All's Well That Ends Well turns the gender tables on an old storyline, the opportunistic and crafty suitor. Usually a young man who is pursuing a well to do girl, Shakespeare casts his heroine Helena in this role. Set in contemporary France, Helena is the daughter of recently deceased court physician who pursues the well born Bertram, Count of Rossillion. She uses her family's secrets to cure the ailing King of France to gain the rather immature Bertram's hand in marriage but he rejects her and cites certain impossible conditions she must meet in order for him to acknowledge her as his wife. The remainder of the play deals with Helena's attempts and eventual success in meeting Bertram's conditions.
Below, as the play first appeared in print, the title page from the First Folio of 1623
Written between 1603 and 1604 and based on a story in Giovanni Boccaccio's anthology Decameron, All's Well follows the formula for a romantic comedy with outrageous plot lines and a happy ending tying loose ends together, but involves rather dubious tactics, people and motivations. Is Helena a victim of Bertram or is Bertram a victim of Helena? How moral is Helena? These perplexing questions have earned All's Well a place in the group known as the Problem Plays. A 19th Century label put on this play along with Troilus and Cressida and Measure for Measure because they defy easy classification. Today, All's Well would be known as Black Comedy taking a sometimes perverse twist on the typical feel good genre. The play was first published in the First Folio of 1623 and though contemporary references show it to be have been popular the first definite record of performance doesn't come until 1740. The show has proved very popular in the last few decades as lesser done Shakespeare comedies have been revived more and more. All's Well also has been suggested as a candidate for the lost Shakespeare play Loves Labour's Wonne, a known work of Shakespeare's prior to 1598. However, the overall tone and composition of the play seem to make it contemporary to the early 1600's with works like Hamlet and Troilus and Cressida.
Click on the left hand bar or the links below to see the Play Text either as in full page or scene by scene; a Directory of Characters with extensive descriptions and backgrounds; a Scene by Scene Synopsis of the play; and extensive Commentary on the show.
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Main Play Page Play Text Scene by Scene Synopsis
Character Directory Commentary
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